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Nov 30, 2016

Shop Smart, Shop Social


Americans show their generosity every day in ways small and large.  Most familiar to us is charitable giving.  Our mail, emails, friends, and family are continually showing us ways to write checks to deserving causes.  Many of us also are generous with our time.  We volunteer, join nonprofit boards, go on fundraising walks.

There is a third way to give back that is relatively new and possibly unfamiliar to many of us —  you can support a nonprofit’s mission in many of your everyday buying decisions.  It is not widely understood that nonprofits sell some of their goods and services in order to earn profits that they plow directly back into their missions.  Nonprofits have substantially expanded these sales activities over the past decade as a way to supplement and leverage the charitable gifts they receive.

Nonprofits (501c3 charitable organizations) are unique businesses.  On the one hand, they are charged with providing a mission service that loses money if it is done well.  That is the reason why for-profit businesses don’t provide those services.  On the other hand, nonprofits, despite their name, must be profitable or else they would be forced into bankruptcy.  To resolve these conflicting mandates, nonprofits have solicited charitable gifts in order to support their mission activities without bankrupting their organization.

In the last 15 years, this approach has not been enough.  Despite the growth of philanthropy in the U.S., charitable giving has barely kept up with the demands placed on nonprofits to expand their mission activities.  Indeed, according to government statistics, charitable giving in the U.S. has stagnated at 25 percent of nonprofit revenues since 1985, while government support of nonprofit services has declined over that period.  In response, nonprofits have more aggressively added profitable services to fill the financial gap and keep up with the demand for their mission services.

This practice of selling profitable goods and services to supplement philanthropy is popularly labeled social enterprise.  Social enterprises are most commonly owned and operated by nonprofits to channel profits to the nonprofit mission.  More recently for-profit social enterprises have been formed to use business to address social needs that typical for-profit businesses would not likely address.

Giving your business to a nonprofit social enterprise is an additional way you can support a nonprofit’s mission.  It is easy to see that the cafes and gift shops at museums are a way to spend money and help a museum.  Other ways to spend and help are not so easy to see.

To help you this holiday season the Center for Social Enterprise Development has assembled a Holiday Gift Guide that steers you to products and services and special discounts from Central Ohio social enterprises.  Check out this Gift Guide as you assemble your holiday shopping list.

For throughout the year, the Center has also developed an online Social Enterprise Directory  to help you channel some of your everyday spending decisions toward social enterprises that give back.  The directory is organized by the type of product or service.

View this list of products and services and, next time you are making a buying decision, look at the online directory to see if a social enterprise’s product or service can meet your needs.  Here are some products and services currently offered by Central Ohio social enterprises:

Your Home:

  • Lawn care
  • Furniture
  • Pest control
  • Painting
  • Groceries
  • Quilts

Your children:

  • Classes in art, dance, science, cultural diversity, music
  • Tutoring
  • Summer camps


  • Coffee
  • Dining
  • Jewelry
  • Clothing
  • Stationery
  • Prescriptions/supplements
  • Gifts

Your business:

  •  Commercial cleaning
  • Catering
  • Landscaping
  • Painting
  • Demolition
  • Call center services
  • Volunteer coordination

So when you think about how you can give back to the community, continue to make charitable contributions and volunteer your time.  But in the coming year, consider channeling some of your everyday purchases to support a cause you believe in.  I call it #Shopsocial.

Allen Proctor, President & CEO

Center for Social Enterprise Development

(first published in Sophisticated Giving, Charity Register 2017)